Meeting with independent bookstore owners, I've gained a few insights on how best to get my books on their shelves.
Here's What I've Learned:
1. Dress nice, but not too nice unless you live in a region where business suits are the norm. I wear nice jeans/casual slacks and a nice knit or button-up top when I go into a bookstore to talk to the owner for the first time, or even to find out when I can talk to the owner.
2. Stalk the bookstore blog/website/facebook page first. See if they support indie or small press writers with events or signings.
3. If possible, visit the store as a customer beforehand, even if you don't have a ton of money to spend on books. See what's on the shelves. Be friendly. (Don't ask for any info yet.)
4. When it's time to meet the owner, bring a business card, a half-page to one-page promotional flyer/info sheet about you and -.
5. Bring your books - but don't bring more than three copies. (Don't look desperate!)
6. Introduce yourself. Tell them you are a indie or small press author, and ask them if they could sell your books on their shelves.
7. Offer (this is a risk) to let them read your book before they carry it. (Do not leave books with a bookstore employee, only with the owner.)
8. If they wish to read your book before they carry it on their shelves, have a clear time frame for a second conversation - two weeks to a month is usually good. (If they ask for more time, consider it, but also consider that I had a bookstore owner completely "forget" about my book after two months.)
9. Be prepared for them to ask to sell your book on commission. This means that you won't get paid until they get paid. However, remember, they are taking a risk on a new, unknown author whose book may sit on their shelves for a year without selling. (See note on #12)
10. If you find a bookstore owner that is willing to pay you upfront for copies of your books, rejoice - you have just found the rarest of bookstore owners.
11. Don't "pay" them to keep your book on their shelves unless you are really certain that their bookstore is going to get you lots of customers. (I've been in a bookstore that expects authors to pay for shelf space and sell only on commission - I don't think that's a deal that works for me.)
12. Find out what shelf the bookstore owner is going to place your book on - the "local author" shelf, the "genre" shelf that fits your book, or? Also, find out if this is a prominent shelf or one that's near the floor in dusty corner. (This happened to me - the owner put my books in a dusty, unseen corner by the floor and not a single book sold even though I sent friends to "find" my book there. Guess what? My friends found my book at a different store.)
13. Ask for a book signing or offer a book/writer talk/event. Bookstore owners like these - it draws in customers. They really like them if you plan in advance and plan to contact the local newspaper, and put up flyers around town.
14. Have a "wholesale" and a sale price in mind when you approach a bookstore owner. If you are small press, this may not be an issue. As an indie author, I "wholesale" my books to the bookstore, and they receive the profit above that price. Is it worth it? Yes. I take into account what the book and shipping costs, then I add the same amount of profit I would make through amazon, and then I ask for that "wholesale" price. Does the bookstore owner make more than I do? Yes, but the bookstore owner has a storefront to lease and employees to pay.
15. If the bookstore owner wants to charge more for your book than Amazon does, let them. They may only have five or six people in their store in an hour . . . or less. Each book sale matters to them. They also know what their customers are willing to pay per book. You may feel "left out" of the profit, but having your book on a bookstore shelf is about getting "known to readers" as well as "sales." (At this point, you might also gently haggle for a better "wholesale" price - this depends on the owner and the friendliness level.)
16. Remember, independent bookstore owners and most small retail business are suffering right now. Online sales and competitions from big box stores are hurting them. (Don't flaunt your kindle sales!)
17. Be professional. Even if a bookstore owner isn't nice to you, or doesn't say yes, just smile, thank them, and exit the store. Tears, tantrums, and crabbiness can always take place at home, or inside the car, preferably after you are out of their parking lot and near the closest coffee shop.
18. Reward yourself for being brave enough to go into the bookstore and put yourself out there. Even if they said no, celebrate your courage and your professionalism!
19. If your book makes it onto the shelves of a small bookstore, send friends, family, and acquaintances there to shop. Tell them how wonderful the bookstore owner is, and how nice it is to have your book in a store. Help the bookstore get business. More business for them means more business for your books.
20. If your book made it onto the shelves, you now have a relationship with that bookstore owner. Keep the relationship alive. Stop by the store every month or two. Chat with them. Buy a book there. Offer another event.